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Minn. Secretary of State: Conspiracy theories over election fraud are 'poisoning our democracy'

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon reiterated that there have been zero credible reports of voter fraud in the state after November's election.

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Kandiyohi County Election Judge Jan Lindblad scans test ballots into one of the tabulation machines tested last week at the Kandiyohi County Office Building in downtown Willmar. Kandiyohi County officials, along with Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, are urging absentee voters to return their ballots to the county in person if the ballots haven't already been processed. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune file photo
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ST. PAUL — More than one month after November's general election, Minnesota's top election official warned state lawmakers that amplifying baseless conspiracy theories of rigged election results is doing "serious and lasting damage to our country."

Minnesota senators virtually convened for a Tuesday, Dec. 8 state hearing to discuss the integrity of the state's 2020 election results. Appearing before lawmakers, Secretary of State Steve Simon reiterated that to date, there have been zero reports of election fraud or interference in the state. Overall, he called Minnesota's election a "big success on multiple levels."

But conspiracy theories of widespread fraud have festered — sometimes by politicians, themselves — and dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits have hit the desks of Simon and other officials around the country. Simon said Tuesday that amid a "national tidal wave of disinformation," lies over the election results are "tearing us apart" and "poisoning our democracy."

“Any member regardless of party, or testifer, regardless of viewpoint, who indulges that kind of recklessness, who tolerates it, who encourages it, or even hints at it, is, I must say, coating themselves in a shame that will never ever wash off," he said.

He went on to cite violent threats lodged against public officials like Michigan's Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson over rumored election fraud, and said he worries "someone might get killed." Members of his own family have been targets of harassment, he said.

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Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who chairs the Senate's election committee and is Minnesota's former-secretary of state, responded that violent threats are "reprehensible" but "this is not the first time" they have occurred. She encouraged Simon to "take it in stride."

Before Tuesday's hearing, Kiffmeyer in a November letter questioned Simon on the integrity of the election, pointing to "anecdotal reports of irregular election activity, questions on software, equipment malfunctions and other concerns during this year's election."

On Tuesday, Kiffmeyer said that if the public has questions on election security, lawmakers should be able to question elections officials "without being accused of nefarious motives just because we’re asking a question." She cited two instances of mistaken vote totals having been posted on the Secretary of State's site, once in 2018 and another time in 2020.

In response, Simon called them "cherry-picked examples."

"If one or two human errors are the worst thing you can say about an election in this state or another state, that’s a really good election," he said.

In a follow-up statement after the hearing, Kiffmeyer said that, "so far, claims of widespread fraud have not held up under scrutiny or in the courts."

"That’s a good thing," she continued. "But there have been issues, and the only way to fix them is by asking questions. I reject the idea that asking reasonable questions is in itself a sinister act."

According to the Secretary of State's Office, Minnesota once again led the nation in voter turnout, just shy of 80% in November. Simon said he suspects that part of why Minnesotans turn out in such high numbers is because they "feel in their bones that it’s a fair, accurate system with integrity."

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"Otherwise, they wouldn't bother showing up," he said. "Would you? I don’t think anyone would."

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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